Simplify Your Life: Idle Hands are the Devil's Playground
Simplify Your Life: Idle Hands are the Devil's Playground

Simplify Your Life: Idle Hands are the Devil's Playground

We're not preaching--just being proactive! With summer just around the corner, your kids are going to have a lot more free time on their hands. Use these tips to keep your kids busy, happy and, yes--out of trouble--all while maintaining your sanity and getting your work done.

"Family and Friends" Summer Tips
Ideas for when a relative or friend is home with your kids

If you're lucky enough to have a grandparent, spouse or neighbor watching your children each day, shower that person with gifts! And make the job easier by offering ideas for keeping the kiddos busy and active. Here are a few of our favorites:

Tried and True with a Lemon Twist!
Just because a lemonade stand is a bit old-fashioned doesn't mean it can't be brought up to modern times for tech-savvy tots. Have the children create their own advertising campaign for their beverage oasis. Most office software has templates for making fliers, brochures and signs. Teach business basics by letting the kids develop a slogan, company name, logo, pricing, pre-promotion plan and financial projections.

Create Your Own Adventure
Nothing beats free or discount admission days at your nearest zoo, museum or public park. But chances are your family has been to those places quite a bit, so a little tweak may be needed. Spend an hour with your kids the night before to create a game. Make a list of trivia facts that can be answered at the exhibits. Or for the little ones, provide sketchpads for them to draw pictures of things they see. Award prizes that night after reviewing their achievements.

Flower Power
Have your green-thumbed tots take over a designated patch of the family flower garden, or even create one from scratch. Or do a mini vegetable or herb garden. The kids will literally see the fruits of their labor come to life, and will learn a thing or two about caring for plants and the earth along the way.

Movie Magic
Is the next Spielberg, Denzel Washington or Angelina Jolie living in your home? Celebrate it! Create a script outline at night with your kids for a short movie about virtually anything. Then have them cast the neighborhood kids in supporting roles. Loan the designated director a tablet or smartphone with a camera on it. Today's free embedded or low-cost editing apps will make editing a breeze!

When Grandma Isn't Available
Tips for parents seeking full-day options

If you don't have a nearby relative or extra generous neighbor around, the thought of summer expenses may be cha-chinging in your head. We put our thinking caps on and humbly offer the following affordable ways to keep the children safe, active and best of all, tired by the time you get home!

Day Camps on a Budget
Save some green by signing up for a traditional camp for certain weeks, and augmenting it with lower-cost day camp weeks offered by local cultural centers, churches, not-for-profits, libraries and even colleges and universities. A lot of museums and zoos offer a week of age-specific activities for budding Picassos or zoologists; many colleges and universities offer athletic or science camps; and your town or city may offer multi-hour sessions each week focused on sports, nature or the arts.

Creative Volunteering
Is your teen interested in a future health-related profession? The hospital or senior home 10 minutes away would LOVE to have extra hands to play games or even perform for the patients or residents. Some centers allow like-minded teens to share lunches and down time with each other. Athletic teens might even receive volunteer service hours by being a junior coach or activity aide at a summer camp, vacation bible school or synagogue program.

Sharing a Sitter
Babysitters can get expensive, too. So why not share the load? If you have, say, two children, and your neighbor or friend who also works has one child of a similar age, hire one qualified (and willing!) sitter to watch all the kids and just split the cost. If you have one child, and two friends have one each, create a set schedule of what days the kids are at your house, and what days they are at your friends' homes. But don't abuse the helpful sitter. It's best to not have any sitter watch more than three kids under age 6, four kids under age 12 or more than five of any age.